Life in the Box

As a kid I wanted to do anything but play in goal. But I was the tallest kid on the team, and the kid’s dad who coached the team thought that made the most sense. I don’t remember ever encountering a goalkeeping coach, just being forced into the big clown gloves and indoor futsal shoes (which can’t be even used for outdoor soccer). After a year or two of life in the box, I got my wish and moved out to the field; I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wondering how things would’ve turned out if I stayed. As an adult, I’ve always loved the goalkeepers. There is no other position like it, anywhere in sports. Not ice hockey or lacrosse or water polo or whatever sport you want to name that has some sort of goalkeeper. They’re not the same.

So when pitched interviews with either Briana Scurry or Tony Meola around their partnership with Allstate Insurance, and how they were surprising youth teams in the Northeast over the weekend with goalkeeping clinics and guest-coaching opportunities, I said sure. I’ll take them both, together. Having two world class soccer players together, one female, one male, both goalkeepers, sounds like a movie script and it intrigued me. What would they want to know from each other?

TIAS:
I’d like you guys to take over the conversation, but I’ve brought some topics to get us started. On the general side, is the game approached any differently from the men’s and women’s side?

Scurry:
I seriously doubt it’s any different. You focus on what you need to do. Positioning, game plans, directing defense, be strong in the box, distribution. I’d guess you feel the same Tony?

Meola:
The approach isn’t much different. My theory is pretty simple. You have to make the saves you were supposed to make and then make one save you weren’t supposed to make. That’s what I tell young goalkeepers. Don’t kill us by making any mistakes, and bail us out one time. One spectacular save.

Scurry:
I didn’t think of myself as either a scapegoat or hero, did you Tony? I just saw myself as someone who could stop the other team from winning. Like you said, if I could make all the saves I was supposed to make, and the occasional one I wasn’t, that is the difference between a good goalkeeper and a great goalkeeper. At the end of the day if I was a hero or a scapegoat, all that really mattered was if I did my job and if the team won or not. Who the media talked about afterward didn’t matter to me.

Meola:
I agree. I don’t think there is any more pressure in one game than the other. I would have dreaded taking a penalty kick more than I would have dreaded being in the goal for a penalty kick.

Now, I would exclude the U.S. Women’s Team from this, but the one thing I see in the men’s game that I don’t see as much of in the women’s game is that there is an awful lot of pressure on the ball in the opposing end of the field. It never used to be that way. Twenty years ago when we started, it was standard that you started pressuring the ball around the midfield line, but now as soon as the ball turns over, it’s a hundred miles an hour.

Scurry:
I agree Tony. In terms of physicality, men are stronger and faster, so the speed may appear to be faster, however, I feel that in terms of speed of thought, the men’s and women’s game is very similar. In regards to national team levels.

TIAS:
Did you feel a lack of respect for the women’s game?

Scurry:
No, to be honest, most of the people I’ve met have been appreciative, and I guess you could say the response from them, being so enthusiastic and so surprised in a sense, that could lend to a thinking of, why are they so surprised? Were they thinking it was going to be a lot less impressive than they actually saw? In that regard, I wouldn’t call it a lack of respect, I think it was just no knowing, not having experienced it before. The power, athleticism and passion in the women’s game.

TIAS:
I was stuck in goal as a little kid because I was the tall one. I was on a good team, so I did a lot of standing around. At the time all I wanted was out of goal and onto the field. At times I regret that now, and wonder if that is something you guys felt as youngsters, and if you see it at all fighting against the development of goalkeepers?

Meola:
I don’t know about you Briana, but I was born a center forward; I couldn’t convince any coaches that I was. You always want to run around, but you come to realize—I equate it to playing the outfield in T-ball baseball. You don’t give it much importance until you get a little older. But there is a concern in our position, and I’m curious what Briana thinks on the women’s side, we are really not developing young goalkeepers. Clubs are not as patient. You see in MLS we have quite a few foreign goalkeepers taking up spots.

We were concerned about national team goalkeepers on the men’s side, and thinking back probably on the women’s side, because the position was occupied by three guys for quite a long time, and on the women’s it was similar with Briana and Hope. That really hurts in the development of goalkeepers as much as it is a luxury to have in the now. That’s my one concern because I always thought that would be the one position that would be solid forever.

Scurry:
I find it interesting you use the phrase stuck in goal, because you are absolutely right, so many people see it that way, but I have to agree with Tony in terms of development, there’s not a lot of people, coaches, trainers that understand the position well enough to teach it. A lot of times a goalkeeper at the youth levels just gets tossed in there and get the ball somehow. There’s a gap there, and I agree with Tony that when one has such longevity, it is harder to crack into the mix. And the drop off between the first 4 or 5 goal keepers that may be next in line after Hope, it’s a huge drop off, and that’s because there isn’t a bunch of development going on.

Scurry:
How do you think Tony, your MLS experience compared to your international experience.

Meola:
For me, I look at MLS in general as one of those things that I could have done or I could have not done. I had obviously a ton of opportunity to go to Europe, and I just decided my MLS experience—and more often than not when you play soccer in this country you have two jobs, right? You play and then you promote. And I always just had this tie to being here, especially after my experience in England with work permits and having so many problems, and them not wanting to let Americans in the door, and I was just so committed to promoting the game here. So in that regard it was excellent; the other lucky part of my career, that some of my friends didn’t have, though I wasn’t as lucky as Cobi Jones, playing in the same city, was that I only played in the two cities. So I was really able to engulf myself in the city—one was my hometown, and the other, a place I never thought I would like that I fell in love with, Kansas City. All in all Briana, it was a great experience. It didn’t end like I wanted it to; it ended in a very awkward way with a guy I never thought it would end with like that, but there isn’t much I would change.

Meola:
There is only really one question I have for Briana. What’s it like to stand in a World Cup final in front of the PK. I’ll never have that opportunity. Not many people—think about it, women, men—they don’t stand in front of the PK in a World Cup final.

Scurry:
It was a surreal experience for me Tony. I really just knew I had to save one. Like you said, make one spectacular save. The interesting thing about the whole experience is with 90,000 fans you’d think you’d hear something, but I don’t recall hearing anything. I was just so focused on that ball and that moment that nothing else existed for me. I will say this: for the entirety of the PKs, I was never intending on looking at the kicker. I was always going to focus on what I was going to do and reading her and going with my instinct. But on that third kicker, for whatever reason, as I was walking into the goal, I looked up and looked at her. And I just knew. I’m sure as an elite athlete you’ve had these experiences—call it the zone or intuition or instinct or whatever—but it wouldn’t have matter where she kicked that ball. I knew I was going to get it. And then the emotion I expressed after that save basically felt like my skin was exploding. It was so exciting; you always dream about it, and I was able to do it. It was amazing, is all I can really say.

Scroll Up